2017 Geography Graduate Program Rankings
July 27, 2017
If you’re thinking about going to graduate school in Geography in Fall 2018 you should be getting started now. Some programs have deadlines before the end of the calendar year and you have some work to do to find the right research mentor. You also need time to study for the GRE and take it twice to be sure you apply with the best score possible. Fair or not, your GRE score is probably the most important element of your application because it’s the easiest way for admission committees to sort and rank applicants.
One place to start your grad school campaign is by checking out the AAG Guide to Geography Programs. I downloaded the most recent AAG Guide so I could identify every PhD program in the US as a starting point. For my rankings this year I’ve decided to provide a more lengthy list of programs divided into tiers. All of these programs offer a PhD in Geography. This, to me, is important because I think you’re far better off attending a program where you can stay for a PhD if you decide to go beyond a Master’s. Staying with the same department for a PhD after completing a Master’s will usually save you at least 1 year of grad student poverty, maybe more. Plus, you’ll encounter better research mentors at PhD granting departments and you’ll likely have a better overall experience at a flagship public University. This is not to say programs offering a Master’s degree in Geography but no PhD aren’t worthy of your consideration. But, it’s not practical for me to rank every program on the planet. And, I just think it’s better to have the option to continue grad school without disrupting your personal life. Things get complicated as you move through life. People tend to form life-long partnerships, have kids, buy real estate, form tight-knit social circles, etc. This can make moving to a new program problematic.
So, building on my rankings from 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, I submit to you my geography graduate program recommendations for 2017, listed alphabetically within each tier.
- UC Santa Barbara
- Ohio State
- Penn State
- Arizona State
- Michigan State
- UC Berkeley
- North Carolina
- Oregon State
- South Carolina
- Kansas State
- Oklahoma State
- Texas A&M
- Texas State
- Florida State
- George Mason
- West Virginia
- South Florida
- Northern Illinois
- Indiana State
- Maryland, Baltimore County
- Southern Mississippi
- Nevada, Reno
- UNC Charlotte
- UNC Greensboro
- Kent State
- North Texas
- Wisconsin, Milwaukee
The AAG omitted Boston University and the University of Georgia from their list of PhD granting departments. Not sure why. The AAG also listed Georgia State and Southern Illinois among PhD granting departments but, from what I can gather, these departments do not offer a PhD in Geography. There are a handful of departments offering a PhD in Geography but only as an interdisciplinary degree and/or in conjunction with one or more other departments. These programs include UC Davis, Florida International, Toledo, Portland State, Temple, South Dakota State and the University of Southern California (USC). Any of these programs might make a great individual fit for you but I can’t recommend them to most aspiring geographers.
Hey, where are the online programs? I didn’t bother with them this year for three reasons. One, I don’t recommend online graduate education. Learning face-to-face from an experienced researcher is better. Two, there are a lot of programs coming and going and it’s difficult to know which ones are worthy of recommendation and which are fly-by-night efforts to boost revenue. Three, some of these programs charge extremely high tuition and I don’t want to be seen as recommending accumulation of student debt as part of a successful career campaign. You’re better off scraping by however you can and avoiding debt while pursuing your education, even if it takes more time.
GIS is the future, dude. Why should I even bother studying geography? I’ll just get a GIS certificate and take a short cut.
Well, GIS is actually the past, dude. The future (for private sector careers and academic research) in geography will be driven by advances in data science applied to spatial problems. You won’t really become savvy in computational methods, data visualization or other data-intensive fields of study by taking classes online. You need a mentor who knows how to do this stuff properly. And you need a deeper understanding of the world, the ability to think spatially and the quantitative and qualitative skills to solve complex problems. You won’t get that with a GIS certificate.
As always, I welcome your comments, critiques and corrections.
It’s always great to see your rankings Mr. Justin Holman.
Thank you Anusha!
… sorry, I meant to say Univ of Texas at Dallas, not Univ Dallas (a private?, catholic university). It’s Friday nite and I’m a bit inebriated. : P
I could’ve sworn Univ Florida excised their Geography Dept years ago. Nope. Still there. Not sure what transpired but I’m sure there was a major
dustup. I’ll have to research what happened. Actually interesting as UFL also has a big data program of some type. Can’t beat FL state tuition but I’m honestly sick to death of Florida. Wish I could find a suburban university besides UB in Amherst. Don’t think I’d go back there for a million dollars. For a number of reasons.
I once considered Florida to be one of the top applied geography programs around. Grant Thrall was a real estate location guru. I know he left some time ago but not sure what else may have happened. Not sure what you mean by “suburban university” but I think there are plenty of options. What about Georgia, North Carolina? Lots of options out there.
… also I don’t see Univ Dallas anywhere. Interesting.
Good catch on UT-Dallas. It should be included here. The Dallas faculty, last time I checked, was absolutely top notch. And if you’re laser focused on spatial statistics this might be one of the very top programs in the US and the world. But, generally, I recommend attending a flagship research University (AAU member) where your graduate degree will be more broadly recognized and where the entire University faculty will be world class. I don’t mean to “diss” Dallas, it’s an R1 University and I’m sure many amazing things are happening. But, outside of Texas, many people will either assume you went to UT-Austin or that your degree is 2nd tier. Not that they know what they’re talking about but the (mis)perception will probably be there.
Thank you so much, sir for all the information ..one more thing how do we approach the research guide as I have tried emailing them but they never reply back .Please do help me with this as I wanted to do PhD in Geography for the past one year but not getting any positive reply from the guides.
You’ll have to be persistent. And you might try different angles. For example, try emailing an admin person in the Department office for general information. If you get a prompt reply you could ask about contacting a particular professor. You could also send an old-fashioned letter and then follow up with emails simply asking if your letter was received. Unfortunately, research professors have to be skeptical of the many incoming email inquiries, so you’ll have to work harder to get their attention than I did in the 1990s.
So okay, hrmm….
First of all I suggest splitting the list into several parts categories. The reason for this is that at the graduate level, you aren’t really looking for the best overall geography program (usually). Rather, you should be looking at the best program for the discipline of geography you want to study, e.g. Human/Physical/etc. If you need to list “overall” that could make sense then I’d just doing a matrix approach to your evaluation.
The second problem is that you have ignored all of the international programs. This is a major flaw, particularly given advances in climate studies and Earth-space sciences overseas. Spain has interesting programs in GIS and data viz. England has superior programs. The Benelux has superior programs, as does Japan.
Something to consider.
I do agree this is an important list. I’d encourage you to work with it.
So okay, hmmm, Ben. Thanks for your suggestions. Sorry my list is such a disappointment to you. If you go back and read my collection of program lists/rankings for the past several years and read through comments I think you’ll find some of these criticisms are addressed, at least in part.
Your suggestion to rank programs by sub-discipline is problematic in my opinion because what you really need to identify are high-quality individual professors doing research within a particular field of inquiry. Sometimes the best potential research mentor is working within a department that wouldn’t make the short list for a particular sub-discipline. Plus, where do I draw the line on sub-disciplines? Breaking into Human/Physical/Technical might yield some noteworthy differences but many top programs would be listed in all three. Going further into sub-disciplinary expertise spins out of control quickly. Check the AAG guide for an example of how many specialties there are to cover, quality check the specialty list for accuracy and currency by department (it’s difficult to keep tabs on all the changes), and then ask prospective students whether said list is helpful or overwhelmingly complicated. Once you’ve done those three research tasks get back to me and we can discuss further.
I agree that it would be nice to include international programs. And, as soon as someone offers to pay for the effort I’ll be glad to dive into the onerous task of compiling an international list. The problem with an international list is that it wouldn’t really be terribly helpful to the vast majority of my readers who are primarily interested in US programs. And, inevitably, I’d get a flurry of knee-jerk comments like yours explaining the flaws in my approach leading to the omission of their home department.
So anyway, hmmm, thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Boston University doesn’t have a geography department or degree in geography anymore so it makes sense that BU was not ranked, but it is odd they left out Georgia
Thanks for letting me know about geography at Boston. Someone may want to suggest they post a clarification as there are still pages advertising graduate programs in geography: http://www.bu.edu/earth/education/graduate/degree-programs/doctor-of-philosophy/
No idea how Georgia slipped through the cracks.
Thanks for the interesting post. For clarification, Southern Illinois University (where I serve as chair) participates in an interdisciplinary doctoral program titled Environmental Resources and Policy. We do, however, have a very active Master of Science track in Geography. It would be nice to see a similar analysis focused on the MA/MS programs.
Thanks for posting and for the clarification re SIU! I’d love to provide more info on MA/MS programs but it’s a big task. And, as I say in this post, I recommend students go to a PhD-granting geography department if possible.
I am gonna be a transfer student for fall2018 from college to university. My major is GIS, so what school would you recommend for my undergraduate degree? I am in San Diego region, and one of my options now is sdsu. Thanks!
San Diego State University is an outstanding option. In fact, they should probably be included in my rankings because they do offer a PhD program, jointly with UCSB. You’re fortunate to have a world class opportunity right in your backyard. If you want to stay in Southern California, you could also consider UC Santa Barbara, UCLA, and even USC. University of Redlands is a private institution with strong ties to ESRI. Lots of terrific programs to check out within a few hours drive.
In 2015 you also broke up programs by focus area. Do you know happen to know which of these programs focus on Spatial Analysis/Statistics or using GIS as part of a Data Science program?
Thank you for your insight!
The 2015 focus area suggestions (programs otherwise not ranked) are still valid. I’m not aware of any Data Science programs containing a major spatial element. That would probably require some sort of dual Master’s with a geography and statistics department, or comparable.
Thank you, I’ll take another look at the 2015 focus areas.
There is the Master of Urban Spatial Analytics program out of PennDesign. Not strictly a geography program but heavy on both the data and spatial side of things
Yes, I’ve heard of this program. I once worked with a graduate of Penn’s Urban Planning program – she was highly proficient. Excellent option for those wanting to use/pursue spatial careers within the umbrella of urban planning.
Hi Justin, thanks for the great post. I’m a rising senior in high school in Oregon interested in studying geography/GIS and looking for recommendations. I know it doesnt matter too much for the undergraduate level, and that both Oregon state and UofO have quality departments, but between the two which is better. More specifically, I am interested in studying the environmental and human side of geography, so which school better caters to those interests. Also if you have any out of state recommendations please let me know, it’ll really help in my college search.
If you’re interested in environmental/human geography go to Eugene. No question. Given your stated interests you won’t find a better program out of state. Oregon State has always had outstanding physical geography but they’re not really a player in human geography.
Thanks for the reply Justin. This kind of surprises me because I’d always heard OSU was good at STEM and I considered environmental geography to sort of fall into that category. I may be wrong here though. This really helped me on my college search. I was leaning toward OSU before this because of their EnviSci program (my second choice in major) but now I’m seriously considering Eugene.
You can’t really go wrong here. OSU is absolutely a top notch University and if you want a more physical science type of education Corvallis may be the best place for you. But if your primary interest is human geography you should go to Eugene. Good luck!
Hi Justin, these lists have been very helpful! I’m just trying to get a sense of how competitive these Tier 1 programs are… I have a degree in Environmental Studies and Econ and am working at a climate change think tank – interested in human/environmental geography. With a strong CV, recommendations, and GRE but a meh undergrad GPA (3.25), how would you strike a balance between realistic and “reach” programs?
Your GPA won’t hold you back, especially if your GRE is really strong. A top GRE will get you noticed and then the admission committee will like your CV and recommendations enough that the 3.25 won’t be a hindrance. So, whether or not Tier 1 programs are a reach will depend on your GRE more than anything. Well, it will also depend on the competition among applicants. I would think applications would be down over previous years when the economy was significantly softer.
Thanks for the reply – and interesting thought on competition among applicants. I never considered the effect of the economy.
One more question: do you have any specific school recommendations for someone interested in environmental geography? AKA, the intersection of human and physical?
I totally agree with your point that GIS is the past. Obviously, the spatial data visualization and machine learning are the future. Since it is a fascinated post for student applying grad school, I would like to stress your point again who read this post. Dude, GIS is a basic, it was a fancy technic about ten years ago- think beyond.
Thanks for your input!
Thank you so much for these guides. They are like a lighthouse in a storm. When I first was looking at Master’s programs, I turned to your blog first for some insight into the Geography Master’s game as I had no idea what schools were good or bad as I was coming from an International Relations Bachelor’s program from a small program up North.
Now that I’m nearing the end of my master’s program and considering a PhD. I was wondering if I could get your insight on which PhD programs focus on primarily the application of GIS technology to social problems. I have looked at various programs (most notably UCLA and GMU) which have professors which seem to either exclusively focus on the qualitative end OR on further working on GIS techniques (like using machine learning methods).
Thank you for all the advice you’ve posted on your website !
Sorry I neglected to mention that I am interested in political geography. For example, analyzing the conflict in India and examining influential factors in ethnic conflict.
So glad my posts have helped you! Your best bet for PhD studies is to find a professor who’s doing the sort of research you want to do, or something very similar. Have you read this post? http://www.justinholman.com/2015/08/12/seven-steps-to-finding-the-right-geography-phd-program/
Your choice of advisor is more critical (at least at the PhD level) than your choice of department/program. Let me know if this generates more questions. 🙂
Hi Justin. My son and I have been reading your blog the last few years. William has been very interested in studying geography in college and now, as a senior in high school, he is more excited than ever to get on campus. My sister lives in Boston so we went there for spring break this year. Fortunately, William discovered that the AAG conference was there at the same time and signed up. He loved it. He met tons of students at the poster sessions and sat in at least 10 or 12 presentation sessions. There are a number of colleges he wants to consider based on what he learned at the conference. I have a couple questions for you as I try to be helpful in his process:
1) How should a potential undergraduate be thinking about studying in a geography department with a strong graduate program? Seems like it would be great to get exposure to the graduate students and faculty at these top-notch schools. Any particular comments/advice on this question? Are there benefits to studying in an undergraduate-focused geography department (for example, Macalester, George Washington Univ., and Vermont are ones he has talked about) and then going to one of these great places for graduate school? At the AAG conference, he really enjoyed the transportation geography-focused presentations he attended that were led by folks from the University of Denver. He visited Clark while we were in Boston and he liked it a lot. He commented that the guy from Clark who led the information session “should be paid a million dollars per year” because he might be “the best in the country.” Minnesota was one of the first schools he visited a year ago when I took him along on a business trip and he has had it on his short list ever since. He tends to compare any large school to Minnesota. So far, despite many comparisons, it has stood the test of time. The last time we went to UCSB it was before he was really thinking about colleges, but my grandparents went there so it has been on his radar for a long time and he would love to visit the next time we are out there seeing relatives. We are going to drive down to UNC to check it out in a couple weeks. There is one professor he really likes at Illinois, but we have never been there. I am just making the point that most of the schools he has on his list are leaders from the graduate perspective. And so as to not leave out the undergraduate programs, he attended several sessions at AAG that included people from Macalester and GW. He was very impressed by the people he met at the conference and was bummed that he could not go to every session.
2) Not to tax your expertise too much, but any thoughts on undergraduate schools he should consider that he might not know of? He would like to go to a school in a city. He seems very interested in how people interact with cities and how that influences transportation, politics, and the human experience. He loves cartography. He will lay on the floor and draw maps all day – mostly networks like subway, train, or air travel networks. If I had to pin him down, I’d say he approaches geography more from a social perspective than a scientific perspective. Thank you in advance for any comments you might offer.
If William were my son I would have him apply to all the top schools and to apply for any scholarships that might be available to attend these schools. I would include UCSB, Penn State, Wisconsin, Oregon, Colorado and any others from the 2nd and 3rd tiers that might be of interest. Then I would sit back and see who offers the best “deal” in terms of scholarship money and opportunity (some scholarships might open doors to special programs and opportunities not afforded to just any student). Hopefully that would narrow it down to 2-3 top contenders. At that point, if you can manage it, it would be good to visit the short list programs and meet with a professor or two so William can ask specific questions and get a feel for where he’d like to study, both in terms of the geography program and in terms of being a young man on a college campus. You might be able to accomplish some of this in New Orleans at the 2018 AAG meeting but being on campus might be more important than meeting professors.
Hope this helps. Good luck to William!
Thanks so much for your help with this excellent site!
I am an international student whose major is Geographic Information System (both M.S. and B.S.) in China. I got my master degree in 2011 and has been worked for several years with several different jobs. Right now, I am a Java Developer for the back end of website for around 1 year. I really wanna pursue a doctoral degree in the field of big data, spatial analysis, or health geography in U.S.. And My GRE score is 155verbal+170Quantitative+3Writing. My TOEFL is 91 in total (19 in speaking section). My GPA is 3.4 for B.S. and 3.75 for M.S.. Besides, I have one publication about agricultural and environmental geography (first author published in 2014, sci). Can you give me some suggestions on choosing universities? I really got confused on which universities I can qualify. Can you suggest universities both on the website you list and others you don’t list here?
Thanks a million!
For GIScience + Health I recommend Illinois and Buffalo. Also take a look at North Carolina, Iowa and Colorado. It’s difficult to comment on your chances of admission. Overall, my guess is application volume will be down as the job market is relatively strong, so chances might be good. But it all depends on the applicant pool at each school. Good luck!
Firstly, thank you so much for compiling such a comprehensive list after all these years, they’re wonderful. I once considered doing it myself, but then I found yours!
I applied last year to a few top schools, and I got into one but was unsuccessful with the others. I decided to wait a while, build up some experience and reapply a little later down the line. I’m now very well-versed in the world of US Geography PhDs etc!
My issues is that I have a real niche research area, and I’m really struggling to find an appropriate home for me at the graduate level. My research interest lies in Disaster Risk Reduction/Response/Recovery, Drones/Remote Sensing and Humanitarian/development initiatives. I’m also a competent physical Geographer. I have a BSc in Geography from a top UK school, and I have the option of doing a MSc at UCL next year, but my heart is really set on US universities.
I don’t suppose you can think of a good home for me? I considered the Stanford IPER program, and I heard Colorado Boulder has a disaster focus, but other than that I’m really stuck!
Thank you for your time!
Just for you: http://www.justinholman.com/2015/08/12/seven-steps-to-finding-the-right-geography-phd-program/
This guy looks good at Penn State: http://www.geog.psu.edu/people/cervone-guido
Thanks so much Justin, the guy does indeed look good at Penn State, and I’ll take heed of the advice in your other article.
My name is Kyle and I am a recent graduate with a BA degree in Latin American Studies. I am thinking of going to graduate school in human geography. I was wondering what my chances would be for a tier 1 school? I have a 3.76 gpa, am near fluent in Spanish, and can very likely get good recommendation letters. I am also currently employed in a small research position in a Latin American country and my research now would be similar to what I would want to study. The only problem is the GRE — I have not taken the GRE yet but I know that I am terrible on standardized tests like the SAT and would probably not do as well on the GRE. What type of scores would I need on the GRE to have a good chance with tier 1 school (mixed with the rest of what I wrote) and if I get bad GRE results, do I still have a chance?
Aside from that, what schools that you listed would be best for human geography (most likely would study something related to fair trade and rural social movements, Latin America focused).
I don’t know what GRE scores you need. It will vary by program and depends on the applicant pool. It’s not impossible to gain admission with a poor GRE, just more difficult. You’ll need to convince the admissions committee you have the goods. One way to sway things your way is to spend time figuring out what professors/departments would be a particularly good fit with your interests and highlighting the fit in your application letter(s). Finally, gaining admission to a Tier 1 program is the wrong goal. Your goal should be to find the best possible research mentor. That person may be at the University of New Mexico. Don’t let these rankings serve as your only criteria for targeting program. Also, you should know that if your ultimate objective is a PhD you can usually move from a relatively unknown Master’s program to a solid or top-tier PhD program if you have the support of faculty who supervised your thesis work.
my name is George Floros and I am currently attending my 2nd MSc., which is in the field of Geographic Information Science at University College London. I am exploring my options, since I would like to pursue a PhD and I would appreciate your opinion. I am interested in 3D GIS, which as I recall from our previous conversation 1 year ago, it is not that well-known in the states. I would like to ask you if the situation remains the same, or there is a developed interest towards the field of 3D. In fact, I am also working with Building Information Modelling (BIM), IFC and the integration between IFC and 3D GIS for the development of AR applications. In case any of the above sound like they could be interesting for a university at the US I would appreciate your comment.
To me, 3D GIS would fall under the domain of GIScience so my recommendation would be to look at all the top programs including Penn State, Wisconsin, UCSB, Ohio State and for the 3D/computing side, Illinois. Many other programs would be worth a look. To pursue a PhD, I think you’ll find yourself needing to identify an application area of interest to go along with interest in 3D-flavored (or I should say flavoured) geospatial technology. For example, maybe you’re interested in how to best visualize 3D data, or maybe you are interested in 3D modeling of natural hazards; something along those lines will be more appealing to a PhD admissions committee.
Thank you so much for making this list and answering all these questions.
I came from a business administration background and I have decided 2 years ago to switch my career from administration to scientific research as I’m working in a research institute that focus in solar energy, water and climate change, I had the chance to work with scientists in those fields, I did an MS in GIS from UK, however I still feel that I’m not confident yet to do the work and always I’m working under supervision. I need to do a PhD that gives me the fundamentals/principals of Geosicence/Geography/Geophysics .. etc. I don’t want to go back and study an undergraduate degree again, I would like to pursue what I have already started with my MS but in more detailed way. I’m interested in data science/wireless monitoring system/gathering real-time data.
I appreciate if you can recommend me some universities/programs to apply for.
Thank you so much once again.
Try reading this post and let me know if it helps: http://www.justinholman.com/2015/08/12/seven-steps-to-finding-the-right-geography-phd-program/
Many thanks for your imformation!
I am a senior undergraduate student from China, major in Physical Grography. I has been to America for several times in the past but know little about the academic situation in Geography. You help me a lot by drawing this list!
I am interested in physical geography, plant ecology, and biodiversity…….and I want to find the point which combines the geography and ecology, but I am not clearly sure about the perspective I should choose. I am good at GIS but I also look forward to the field trip in the natural world.
Could you give me some advice about the university?
Best wishes! ))
Any top program listed here would probably work for a Master’s. It’s more about finding the right fit with a researcher. Read this post and see if it helps: http://www.justinholman.com/2015/08/12/seven-steps-to-finding-the-right-geography-phd-program/
Thank you so much! With you help, I looked up the official websites and applied to some university by myself, and I have received the offer from SUNY Buffalo.
Thank you for the work you put in making these lists and answering so many comments!
I am an undergrad pursuing a triple major in Geog, GIS, and Global Studies, with a Spanish minor. I love human geography and am specifically interested in cultural geography, food systems, and sustainable community development. From your list I have researched faculty and current students and identified Minnesota, Georgia, UC Davis, Syracuse, Wisconsin, and Arizona as schools that seem to be a good fit for me. I am also curious about U of Missouri who is not on your list , and has an oddly small program, but is strong in human geography.
I have a GPA of 3.8 and have a good cv and recommendations, but do not come from a major university, and am wondering if it is even possible for me to be accepted into one of these major programs, and on top of that recieve funding.
Do you have any suggestions on schools that would be a good fit for me, or any advice?
Admission will depend on your GRE scores and your level of research maturity. If you are good at standardized tests and can “talk the talk” in terms of academic research interests I think you’ll have a very good shot at both admission and funding. Try to connect with professors who share your research interests as soon as possible. You might also consider attending an AAG meeting, either the main annual meeting (New Orleans in 2018) or a regional meeting.
Thanks for the response! Would you be able to speak on any specific programs to look into, as well as the program in Missouri?
I am looking at going back to school to get my masters after a decade of being in the work force as a GIS Tech. My first of two problems is that many programs I’ve been looking at want letters of recommendation, many of them with requirements that they come from the professors from my school where I got my BA. Since it’s been so long, I’m doubtful that my old professors will be able to give me a good letter, if they remember me at all. Some will allow former supervisors to send LORs, I can get maybe one, but the others I’ve had were those who I worked for a short amount of time many years ago and am out of contact and won’t remember me, or those who I had problems with at work and may not give me a good review. So is there a way around this for me, like apply with one or no LORs and take my chances or are there programs that don’t require LORs or place a heavy emphasis on it? My other problem is that the school where I got my BA no longer has a Geography program, it was never big to begin with and was discontinued a few years ago, is this a detriment?
Also, while my GPA overall was a 2.87, my last year’s GPA was 3.516 and my major GPA was 3.595, and my GRE verbal/quantitative/writing scores are 157/158/4.5, I know these are good, but are they enough to get me in? Thanks!
Don’t try to sidestep the LOR requirement. Follow the application instructions to the letter. Reach out to your professors and explain your situation. They should be willing to help alumni even if they don’t remember you too well. It would be good to get a solid letter from someone who has supervised your work in the private sector. If no one seems perfect, try the least problematic boss. This isn’t a make or break element of your application but you might want address the LOR challenge in your application statement.
The discontinued Geography department shouldn’t be a problem. In fact, it might help explain your difficulty in getting a good LOR.
I don’t know if your GREs will be good enough to overcome your GPA. Depends completely on where you apply and what the competition has to offer. You might want to contact programs of interest and speak to someone about admissions criteria, likelihood, etc. Good luck!
Thanks for all of the helpful info you’ve provided. I have recently moved to Massachusetts and have been trying to find a good Grad program to get into. I noticed that Boston was on the list and then someone commented that they aren’t offering it anymore. In doing some online research, I found a program at Salem State University. Can you offer any info or feedback on them?
Thanks in advance.
I have heard of Salem State and it sounds pretty good but not top notch. But you should try to figure out what you want to do after grad school and look for the best vehicle to get you there. Lots of options near. Check out Clark.
Thanks for this work, Justin! Been really helpful in my grad school research. Just compared your 2015 and 2017 lists. Both super helpful. One thing I’d love to see again that you did in your 2015 list is a breakout of the best places to go for different types of geography. I’m looking specifically into Human Geography programs, so the 2015 list was most helpful for that reason. The tiering is helpful, generally, but I see that many of the Tier 1 programs focus heavily on physical geography or data science/GIS-type stuff and I’m really looking for the strongest human geography programs. Thanks again for all your work and just wanted to share this bit of feedback! Cheers.
Thank you very much for the feedback. I’ll see if I can reprise the sub discipline listings in 2018 but keep in mind this is very subjective so don’t rely on me as your sole source.
The vast majority of programs listed here take what I call a “balanced” approach to geography offering a blend of faculty expertise and course offerings in human geography, physical geography and technical/GISci topics. The top 2-3 tiers *are* the top human geography programs, in my opinion. My advice to you is to seek a program with this sort of balance. Studying all three areas in some depth will make you a better human geographer. The same is true for anyone seeking the best physical geography or GISci programs. Hope this helps.
How is the LSU program?
I am coming from a masters in environmental justice at Michigan but am interested in studying and being located in the Gulf Coast. Any others? Thanks for this list!
I don’t know too much about LSU and it seems to keep a low profile within the discipline, at least from my limited perspective. That said, I once worked with a graduate and, as I recall, she had a great experience. LSU is a major/flagship University and that means something, especially if you plan to pursue a career in Louisiana. Even more important is your faculty mentor so if you can find a good fit at LSU go for it. There seem to be very interesting things happening at Texas A&M Corpus Christi and Univ South Florida if those parts of the Gulf Coast are also of interest.
I’ve benefited a great deal from considering and contemplating the options provided in your present and past rankings, and I thank you for them.
I have a question I’d like to throw by you, to get your perspective. What do you think of programs that offer students a unique regionally-specific education, but aren’t necessarily represented in ranking schemes? I’m interested in Arctic geography (with all the trimmings; environmental/sustainability science, human geog., cartography, etc.), and I’ve felt a logical option along these lines is the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, especially with its attractive Resilience and Adaptation Program in sustainability science, which I’ve been eyeing for quite a while now. I’ve thought about pairing this with either (mostly) the Arctic and Northern Studies Master’s degree or (possibly) their natural resource management MS, because while UAF does offer a whole host of geography courses for students to choose from, there is no formal graduate program in geography (beyond, say, an individualized interdisciplinary concentration). I’m just a bit concerned that taking a leap into a degree that could limit my options going forward if employers or PhD programs outside Alaska wouldn’t consider my degree legitimate or ‘sexy’ enough given its unranked status (which, in articulating this in writing, seems a tad ridiculous, but that’s how I feel). By the same token, I feel that UAF could offer a specialized educational and research experience that may benefit me greatly going forward, especially in getting experience that many universities don’t offer elsewhere. What do think about all this? Would it be wise to note where alumni with these degrees have worked or pursued further education? Even if you have never heard of any of the programs I’ve mentioned, I would still appreciate the input.
P.S. – two important filters to add might be: 1) I do not have a geography undergraduate degree (humanities), and while I am driven to break into the field, I’m generally limited in my options for grad. programs due to a lack of prerequisite courses, and 2) I’m not hooked on UAF to the extent that I would be unwilling to consider other options (esp. given UAF’s recent budget crises).
Given your interests, I think pursuing a Master’s degree at Alaska-Fairbanks would be a great option, though you might look at Colorado and a few other options as well. Since you are trying to “break into the field” I think it could be a great path for establishing yourself. If your ultimate objective is a PhD you will want to take a very serious look at moving to one of the programs listed in these rankings, after completing a Master’s in Alaska, in order to maximize your career opportunities. Hope this helps.
I’ve greatly enjoyed, and appreciated, your rankings over the years – they have been very informative. Thank you! I have an academic background in geography (B.S. in Geography and Global Studies and M.Ed. in Geography Education). I have participated in a range of research studies as an undergrad and grad student, which has provided me invaluable experiences and cemented my love of geography. I have taught middle school science the past seven years and wish to make a career change and continue my education. I have always been fascinated by public health, especially where it connects to the broad field of geography. I am debating pursuing a MPH with an emphasis in GIS at University of North Texas Health Science Center or going the traditional Geography/GIS route. My limitations are financial and time. The MPH program at UNTHSC is very affordable and online, which will allow me to work full-time while pursuing the degree. Choosing, and especially attending, a traditional geography program “may” not be that feasible in my current life-stage. Also, I do not want to limit myself to only a public health job or only a traditional geography job – I have broad interests and want to keep my options open as I’d be happy doing many things. Do you see any serious limitation of choosing either route and being singled into only one type of career (ie can only get a public health job with MPH or will not be able to work in the field on public health with a Geography degree)? Or could I be able to work for a variety of organizations on a variety of projects with either degree? I understand this is a broad question, but I value your input. I thank you in advance for your time and assistance!
You’re already an established geographer so I don’t think you risk alienating yourself from geography/geographer arenas by pursuing an MPH. If the content in the North Texas program is exciting to you and the tuition is affordable why not give it a shot? You might ask the program admins what sort of placement record they’ve seen for previous grads to confirm it will move you in the right direction. Good luck!
You are doing a wonderful job in sharing all the expertise and your analysis on GIS and Geography field.
How i wish i had come across your blog earlier. 🙂
I’m a Civil Engineering graduate with 5years of work experience in construction cost estimation in India.Now residing in Boston from a year.I’m exploring new career opportunities in the field of GIS /Geo spatial science and related fields.Since, I do not have any background study or work experience in GIS ;What would be the best way to start a career in GIS? .Is Online Masters/graduate certification from a good university like Penn State help me gain good knowledge and land a job? Or Regular university course better.Please help me decide.
I wanted to best utilize the time so i joined a graduate certificate course on Green building and community sustainability in Harvard extension schools where i m planning to take online courses on Intro to GIS,Web GIS technologies,Intermediate geographic analysis and sustainability for building and community.
Prior to registration i had not read your blog.Now that i have read i m in dilemma to go with the course registered or take up a regular course from Salem State university or Clark University.
P.S (I have Very Good GPA,Avg TOFEL score,Low GRE Score)
Thanks in Advance!
Given your experience and existing academic qualification I think a certificate course or self study would be sufficient, albeit less robust than a “regular” residential program. But different students have different learning styles. You may not need any formal study but simply a job in an organization where GIS is part of the picture. Learning on the job (and with a paycheck) is best if you can find a way.
I have been lurking among your posts for a couple years now. I am a contract archaeologist working in Illinois for five years. I enjoyed studying anthropology and archaeology in undergrad at Illinois State University, but am looking for training to become a more specialized geographer. I was able to get a job right out of university with a great company (ISAS) and in a small office, where I have been able to get much more hands-on experience than I could have ever dreamed. While working there I fell in love with GIS and mapping and now want to further my studies. Although I work for University of Illinois, I am not sure if this is the school I would like to study at. I have been looking for a GIS program that features human geography but will be able to give me the technical skills I will need to succeed within my field (I have not been too impressed with “GIS” programs within archaeology grad programs – it doesn’t seem like anyone really learns anything substantial). What schools, off the top of your head, would you suggest that would be appropriate for what I am looking for in a program?
Illinois is an outstanding program/University so I wouldn’t be too quick to dismiss an opportunity there, especially if you can leverage your current position for tuition purposes. Almost all other top tier programs have robust offerings in human geography and GIS though each of them would serve up a slightly different flavor. My suggestion is to look for a professor doing the sort of work that interests you and explore the program where they teach. Or, better yet, contact them via email and ask about opportunities or suggestions for other programs.
Hi Justin, thanks for doing this annual ranking. I just noticed that North Texas (where I teach) is ranked in your listing. We always appreciate recognition, but in our case I should note that UNT does not have (and has never had) a doctoral program in geography (in 2017 we actually won the AAG’s inaugural program excellence award for terminal master’s programs). Since we don’t have the resources (and obviously, students) that a doctoral program would have, I would put it out there that ranking UNT Geography with doctoral programs does not represent a fair, apples-to-apples comparison. So, for future annual rankings, would it be possible for you to omit UNT (as long as your ranking is one of doctoral programs)? Thanks and all the best.
Thank you for the note. I suppose the confusion comes from your own program page and the North Texas listing in the AAG Guide as both sources list an option for a Ph.D. See http://geography.unt.edu/academic-programs/graduate-program and http://www.aag.org/galleries/guide/20162017_Guide_to_Geography_Programs_in_the_Americas.pdf. So I think that’s why I included UNT in my rankings. I see now that the PhD program appears to be geared toward Environmental Science and/or Critical Human Geography. In any case, I will bear in mind for future rankings that UNT does not consider itself a PhD granting geography program.
Hello Justin, thanks for your follow up. You are absolutely right about the existence of a PhD option listing on our program page, but as you correctly note the PhD here is not a PhD in geography. I should note, however, that UNT has now introduced a new doctoral program in information science that has a geospatial concentration, but even that is not an actual PhD in geography (we are getting closer with this, though!). Thanks again for providing your helpful geography program ranking.
All the best.
You did not mention Claremont Graduate school for GIS Data Science? you graduated there for undergrade Your thoughts
I don’t know much about the program. I just glanced at the faculty and there isn’t a true geographer among them so I think they’ve got one hand tied behind their backs.
Hi Justin !
Thank you very much for your kind information over the Geography graduate programs in USA.I have been following your posts from my undergrad.Recently, I have completed my bachelor.My CGPA is 3.45 out of 4 and My GRE score is 303(q=156;v=147) and AWA=3.5. I know my score is not that good.However, it will be very kind of you if you could suggest me some universities with major on quantitative GIS within my profile.
Thanks again for your valuable time.
Start by reading these two posts:
Hope this helps! Good luck!
Thank you very much for your insightful information.
The way that the AAG published their most recent guide is certianly an oddity, many programs with Geography degrees were dropped out of the guide. Georgia certianly is the most shocking omission!
I am confused about UWM being ranked in your lowest tier, it is a highly repected program in the East and West Lakes regions. Their department has high admissions standards, and their phd graduates often end up on the tenure track. I would make the argument that you have LSU and Texas State ranked too low for similiar reasons. LSU grads are scattered in tenure jobs across the country, and Texas State is practically a household name in the Geography world for all the right reasons.
I cant say I disagree with your top tiers, but I think that some of these programs are going to face stiffer competition in the coming years.
Thank you for your input. I confess to knowing very little about LSU and UWM which may explain their lower placement. I agree Texas State is well known and making tremendous strides in Geography; but, as a relatively new program within a less prestigious University I see them as a very solid Tier 4. Which Tier 3 program would you drop below Texas Tech? In any case, you seem to be very knowledgeable about the discipline so if these are your only complaints I think I’m doing okay. Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I will take a second look at these programs for this year’s post.
I think you should, at a minimum, separate human geography out from your overall ranking. You have Berkeley ranked as a third tier university. That is ridiculous.
Yes, I know. It’s just not fair, is it? It’s almost as if I don’t consider Human Geography to be its own discipline.
I was wondering if you knew anything about Virginia Tech’s Geography Department and master’s program. I noticed Tech wasn’t listed in the AAG Guide.
Also, do you think it’s more important to have a good mentor I connect with or go to a top tier school?
I don’t have first hand knowledge but I consider Virginia Tech to be a top university with a very strong geography department. I’m a fan of John Boyer, aka The Plaid Avenger, who teaches in the department and a perusal of the current faculty indicates a highly productive group with solid expertise in GIS-related topics. Mentor vs School depends on your objectives. If you’re aiming for a PhD then mentor is more important, though the best research mentors tend to be in top programs. If you’re interested in a Master’s degree only, then it’s probably more of a toss-up … but again it depends on the mentor and the schools in question. If the “good mentor” is working at Middle of Nowhere State University and the “top tier school” is UC Santa Barbara, I’d go to Santa Barbara. But if the good mentor is at any major R1 University I’d probably follow the good mentor.
I apologize for the late response. Thank you for the advice! I think I’ve narrowed down my search to VT’s Masters program, UMD’s PhD program, and Penn State’s Masters or PhD program. I am trying to way the pros and cons of each, and I was wondering if you had additional thoughts/advice. I am really interesting in the health applications of GIS and remote sensing, such as modeling disease spread through a population.
VT would allow me to pursue an MS in Geography and an MPH. It would take about 3.5 years, but I would also get funding to do it. I am currently attending VT as an undergrad and already know my advisor and I get along well. She specializes in medical geography. The downside is that she is the only faculty member at Tech who is focused on medical geography.
I initially considered UMD’s MPS program, but I realized that it isn’t the best fit because I am more interested in research. The director of UMD’s Center for Geospatial Information Science reached out to me and informed me of their doctorate program. She thought it would be a good option for me because they do a lot of research. They are also involved in multiple health-related projects. I think UMD would be a great place to network, but I am not sure I want to pursue a PhD without having any work experience.
Based on your rankings, Penn State has a really great program. I considered it for that reason and reached out to a faculty member who has health interests. I think there are only one or two faculty members at Penn State who would have the background to advise me.
Please let me know if you have any thoughts, comments, or think of other things I should consider!
Thanks very much.
Hi Justin !
Could you please suggest some universities which offer admission for Spring semester.Actually I am interested to apply for my masters in Geography in the Spring 2019.
Thank you very much for your valuable time.Looking forward to your kind reply.
I’m not certain this is still the case but most traditional/residential graduate programs process admissions for Fall only. Newer online programs tend to be more flexible about start date. Not sure where you could search for the particulars aside from visiting individual program websites. Sorry I can’t provide more helpful information.
Hi Justin !
Thank you very much for our kind reply.
Hi Justin !
Would you please give me some ideas about the MS in Geography program at the Marshall University ?
Thank you very much for your valuable time.
Best Regards !
I don’t know much about Marshall’s geography program. Sorry I can’t be more helpful.
Hi Justin, I realize your rankings are for graduate studies, but I have found your insights helpful as my daughter is selecting an undergraduate program. She has been accepted at Oregon and Clark and is leaning toward Clark because of their scholarship offer. If she likes both places equally, would the reputation and/or academics at one or the other tip the scales? Also, I am not sure how far she might go into graduate school. If she chose to venture into the corporate world would one school’s program be better than the other. Conversely, would one program give her better options for grad school? Thanks very much for your opinion.
Congratulations to your daughter on admission to two great Universities. I wouldn’t worry about academic reputation. It won’t really matter as much as other factors when it’s time to apply to grad school. If it were my decision (or my child’s) I would think about it more from a lifestyle standpoint. Pretty big differences between UO in Eugene vs Clark in Worcester. I would encourage her to consider where she thinks she can be most successful and happy and let that tip the scales. You could also frame it simply as a decision between the West Coast and the East Coast because, beyond college, she’s more likely to find opportunities closer to where she graduates. If she goes to Clark chances are she’ll end up working in Boston/NY/DC or nearby; if she goes to Oregon she’s more likely to land in Portland, Seattle or San Francisco. Hope this helps.
I’m looking into returning to school for my Masters in GIS. I’ve been working in GIS for the last couple years. I did well as an undergrad especially when it came to my GIS courses. My only issue is that I’m a horrible standardized test taker. I’d rather not take the GRE so I was wondering if you know of any good programs that don’t require that exam? Any help would be much apprecated!
All the best,
Off hand I don’t know of any programs that don’t require the GRE. It’s pretty much ubiquitous for traditional, residential grad programs. You may have better luck with online or “professional” programs. In any case, don’t give up! Low GREs may prevent admission and/or funding at top grad programs but it won’t prevent a successful career campaign if you’re persistent.
Thanks Justin, I actually just found I got accepted to Clark’s GIS program with a scholarship. Appreciate the advice!
Congratulations Sam! And good luck with your campaign at Clark!
First off, I’ve been following your annual graduate school rankings for a while, and this year it helped a lot when it came time for me to apply to graduate programs.
Anyways, I’ve gotten into two of my top-choices: Univ. of Oregon and Penn State for the M.S. programs. It’s awesome news, but I’m also stuck in making a decision! I intend to complete a PhD after the masters, and I’m hoping to remain within the same program and complete both degrees in a timely manner. I know that Oregon has a smaller program compared to Penn State, which could be considered both a bonus (tight-knit, more guidance, etc.) and a pitfall (potentially less funding, especially considering I want to do field work on another continent, etc.). There’s also pros and cons to large and prestigious departments like Penn State’s, such as a larger network of students and professors (they actually have a Supporting Women in Geography group!), but there’s also the issue of feeling lost in the crowd.
I really just wanted to seek your advice and gauge your thoughts/opinion on this decision. Appreciate the help!
Have you read this post? http://www.justinholman.com/2015/08/12/seven-steps-to-finding-the-right-geography-phd-program/
Since you want a PhD I think you should focus more on your faculty advisor(s) and go where you think you’ll find the “best fit” in terms of research interests and prospects for successful collaboration. Have you asked both programs about funding? Do you have offers for teaching/research assistance in exchange for tuition remission and a (paltry) stipend? As a prospective doctoral student you don’t really want to go to either program unless they’re offering funding. Plus, you’re looking at 5+ years minimum. West coast vs east coast isn’t trivial. Feel free to email me (use contact form) directly if you want to continue the conversation.
Thank you for the information, the last point you make in that post and what you’ve reiterated in your comment definitely rings true. Where might I find the contact form?
What is the difference between a degree in Physical Geography and Geosciences, at least at most grad programs? It seems like most of them are a combination of some physical geography and geology, at least the ones I’ve investigated. Are they good for degrees in GIS?
This would take too long to answer thoroughly but your assumption isn’t too far off the mark. If you want to work with physical geography data then a focus on Physical Geography (or Geosciences) with additional emphasis on GIS would likely be a good way to go.
Hi Justin – Great website! I’ve been following you for awhile. I have two questions – What do you know about Canadian programs? I’m looking at Toronto, UBC and Simon Fraser. I plan on teaching geography at a private school – and eventually jump into the international school circuit. That said – what programs focus on Geography Education? Thanks!
Top Canadian Universities, like the ones you named, are outstanding; but, I don’t know enough about them to recommend one over another. Not too sure about Geography Education programs either. Oregon had one for many years and it flourished under the guidance of legendary geographic education scholar/leader, Susan Hardwick. Sadly, Susan passed in 2015 and I think the program is in transition now so can’t recommend with confidence. I’m not an expert in the matter but I think you might be better off just finding the best possible program to fill your brain with geography and worry about the teaching once you find yourself facing the classroom. Don’t mean to be flippant but, for me, subject matter supercedes pedagogy.
Hello Justin. Been looking at your site/ranking since I planned to take PhD in Geography in 2016. Was finally able to get a Fulbright scholarship and accepted an offer from FSU for the coming Sem 2018. I noticed that they were never on your list until the 2017 one, I was wondering what changed? Actually, It was IIE not me who decided to apply to the University and they gave the “best offer” to Fulbright. Just want to get you thought regarding this. – Ef from the Philippines
I’m assuming you’re referring to Florida State University? If so, I think it will be great. Not a premier geography department but if there’s a good fit with a productive research mentor it doesn’t really matter. And Florida State is a great University in general so your degree will be well regarded. Congratulations!
I am finishing up my undergrad at UCLA next year and I just had a question regarding funding at different grad schools. At least concerning geography, I know that here at UCLA the master’s portion of grad school is funded as part of the PhD program because master’s studies are structured as an “on the way” degree as opposed to a terminal one. Do you know if this is the case in schools that consider the master’s and PhD completely separate achievements (e.g. Oregon, Colorado), or is it generally the more traditional expectation that the master’s student will find the money from other sources and then receive funding for his or her PhD research?
My guess is most Master’s students, but not all, at Oregon and Colorado are funded like the same way they are at UCLA. Unless you’re pursuing a “professional” Master’s degree you should expect funding to be part of the equation. If it’s not part of an offer, I would, generally speaking, advise you to wait for a better opportunity. Hope this helps.
I saw these rankings last summer when you first released them and I agree with most of them, but there is one thing that I don’t agree with. I definitely think George Mason University should be ranked higher than you have them (like Tier 2 or 3 in my opinion). I didn’t think much of this last year when I first saw your rankings because I had no knowledge of George Mason, but I recently had the chance to go to Fairfax and visit their geography department (it’s actually called the Department of Geography and Geoinformation Science) and I have to say it’s really an excellent department with top-notch programs. I’ve also recently visited other geography departments in the DC area (University of Maryland and George Washington University) and I honestly think George Mason’s department is the best in the DC area. In my opinion, the geography department at George Washington definitely trails behind George Mason’s and Maryland’s, but seeing George Mason ranked as a Tier 5 when Maryland is ranked as a Tier 3 doesn’t make much sense to me. I wanted to share my thoughts with you because I recently visited those three geography departments and explored their programs, and I definitely think George Mason’s department is the better of the three. Have you ever visited George Mason?
I agree with your assessment of George Mason. My perception of the program (no, never visited) is very positive. That said, Maryland has a very productive faculty though they seem to be exclusively oriented toward physical geography. As such, George Mason and Maryland are sort of apples and oranges. George Mason is clearly a better program if you want to specialize in Geospatial Intelligence and pursue a career in federal government whereas Maryland is probably superior if you want to be an earth system scientist studying climate change or responses to climate change. So, as with just about everything, it depends on the individual. This also illustrates the challenge in coming up with these rankings. Thank you for highlighting George Mason as a department that may offer the best possible graduate program for some, but wouldn’t even appear on the radar for others.
I do agree that George Mason and Maryland have very different departments and that they both have their strengths and weaknesses, but I still think George Mason should be ranked better than Tier 5. I was happily surprised with their department and the programs they offer. I think most people in our field would also be happily surprised with George Mason. Yes, their department has government agency connections that many departments don’t have, but I think almost anyone who is looking to pursue a graduate degree in our field should take a look at George Mason. Currently the following four graduate degrees are offered: MS in Earth System Science, MS in Geographic and Cartographic Sciences, MS in Geoinformatics and Geospatial Intelligence, and PhD in Earth Systems and Geoinformation Sciences. Their department also offers five graduate certificates. I understand how challenging it could be to rank departments that are so different from each other, so thank you for taking that on! I felt like I should share my thoughts about George Mason’s department because they are often underrated in my opinion. I’m looking forward to your next graduate program rankings!
I previously commented about how I think George Mason should be ranked better than Tier 5. My comment was deleted soon after I posted it for some reason though. Would you mind telling me why you think George Mason belongs in Tier 5? From what I experienced, their department seemed top notch.
Hi! I have been thinking about getting a GIS Certificate and I was really surprised by your dismissal of them. I understand where you’re coming from… but what about those of us who can’t relocate/afford to attend a Graduate program? You talk about just working on GIS on your own instead, but is that really a better option than any kind of certificate? Would the certificate be the middle ground between “I’ve self taught GIS and volunteered somewhere” and “I have a MS?”
I don’t want you to take this the wrong way, your site has been very helpful. I graduated with a BA in Geography (Social Geography track) from Ohio State back in 2009, and have been working more on community side and studying herbalism and not at all with GIS. I’ve been thinking about going back to it, with a dream of being able to GIS on contract/remote to give myself a higher payscale and flexibility, but this might be a wake up call/reality check that I won’t get much past the grunt work of a GIS tech for a county government… Just some thoughts. Thanks!
I’m not sure where I dismissed GIS certificates in general. You may be referring to my commentary on the Geographic Information Systems Professional (GISP) certification program? Or maybe I was just having a bad day. I think a GIS Certificate from a University is a good idea for someone like yourself (i.e., Bachelor’s degree but lacking some technical skills) if the coursework necessary to achieve the certificate is interesting to you and delivers a marketable skill set. I would advise you to avoid any certificate program focusing too heavily on ESRI software. There are a number of GIS programs offering Certificate programs that can be applied toward a Masters degree. Always good to leave options open. Hope this helps.
One other question… my interest in GIS comes largely from this thinking about it like graphic design for spatial data. If someone has no interest in programming and coding, would you be inclined to say don’t bother?
Look for a program emphasizing cartography and/or data visualization. Note, however, that the best data visualization work is often produced using programming/coding methods so you may need to get over your lack of interest. If you can view programming as a vehicle to advanced data graphics production you’ll likely find yourself doing more interesting work and earning a higher income.
Thanks for your informative write up on geography programs. I’m a rising junior at American University majoring in international relations and music history. My mom got her BA and MA in geography from Wisconsin in the 90s and I’ve recently come to the realization that I similarly want to pursue geography at the graduate level.
So far, I’ve identified a few phd programs (and faculty) I’m interested in studying with, namely UCLA, Berkeley, Wisconsin, Colorado and UBC Vancouver.
Where do Canadian programs rank? Any other notable ones besides UBC? I’m interested in human/cultural geography, and environmental politics— are there any other programs you might suggest? How many programs do you suggest applying to?
I grew up in rural MN and the east coast was a huge culture shock to me! I’m hoping to move west after I graduate. 🙂
Thanks for your help,
Canadian programs are, generally, outstanding but I don’t know enough to recommend one over another. UBC has a good reputation and would certainly be a nice place to live. You might check out Oregon and Professors Alec Murphy and/or Peter Walker in particular for environmental politics. You should also check out Minnesota since it’s your home state. I would apply to every program you think offers a good fit with your interests…and there should be specific reasons for thinking it’s a good fit, the same reasons you would articulate in a personal statement on the application. Hope this helps.
Thanks for sharing your expertise. I’m a rising junior at American University in D.C. studying international relations and music history. After a couple govt internships, I’ve come to the realization that I would like pursue a PhD in geography (like my Mom). I would be applying in Fall 2019.
So far I’ve been studying for the GRE and started a list of potential programs and faculty members. I’m interested in cultural/historical geography, indigenous geographies, and environmental politics (specifically first nations water rights in Canada). How important is it that I have some undergrad research published (if I’m applying to places like UCLA, Berkeley, Wisconsin and Boulder)? I saw that AAG is in Washington in April 2019– is that something that would significantly help my applications? Is UBC Vancouver considered a premier program (is it recognized enough that I could get a job)? You mentioned that the GRE is very important (fair or not) for applications– do admissions committees take in to account things like service/campus extra curriculars, or is it most efficient to just focus on indicators academic achievement?
My apologies. I checked, and thought my original comment didn’t register so I wrote out another one… Oops….
Attending AAG is a very good idea. Best place to make contact with potential research mentors and to get a feel for the breadth and character of the discipline. Try to present some research if possible; it can be “work in progress” so don’t be shy about giving it a shot. Publishing prior to applying for grad school would be great but not essential. Extra curricular activities won’t really help that much unless they feed into the narrative you’re trying to convey in your personal statement where you explain why the program is an ideal fit and where you provide evidence that your research interest and the idea of grad school didn’t just occur to you last week.
Thank you so much for your insight and attention to so many questions! Your site has been a great help as I start looking into graduate geography programs.
I’m currently studying anthropology and geology at Smith College, and I’m looking into geography programs focusing on political ecology or related fields.
I was wondering what criteria you used to divide your tiers, and what factors might cause you to rule out a school?
Lots of factors go into the rankings. I look at placement (where faculty at top programs received their PhD), NRC rankings, survey results (my own survey), the structure/components of the graduate program. I don’t really rule out many programs but I tend to “punish” programs that don’t have a balance between human, physical and technical geography (e.g., Boston and Maryland are at the very top of NRC rankings but both programs are almost exclusively focused on physical geography). Hope this helps.
I’m currently a high school junior looking to study geography in college, and your rankings are really helpful in understanding which schools have strong programs. Do you recommend studying geography as an undergrad, or just for grad school and beyond? Furthermore, would you say these schools ranked have a solid undergrad geography department, or are there some schools missing or some you would take away?
I know that your rankings are for graduate schools, but I’m finding very limited information on what are some good undergrad geography programs.
Thank you so much!
Thanks for the note.
1. Do you recommend studying geography as an undergrad, or just for grad school and beyond?
A. As with most everything, it depends. Some people know exactly what they want to do for a career at a young age. If you’re one of them and geography is your path, go for it. You could probably save 2-3 years going to one University for bachelors, masters and doctorate (my advisor did just that at Wisconsin). For others, the path twists and turns. As an undergrad I would try to cast a wide net and explore as many fields of interest as possible to get a broad perspective.
2. Would you say these schools ranked have a solid undergrad geography department, or are there some schools missing or some you would take away?
A. I think of Dartmouth, Middlebury and Macalester as among the very best places to study geography as an undergrad. So I would add those and there are probably many others worthy of consideration but not on my list. I don’t think I’d remove any from consideration. You might consider exploring “honors college” options offered on many campuses as a way to provide a small college experience and learning environment within a major research University. Sort of best of both worlds.
Hope this helps.
I’m looking into CSU – Long Beach and CSU – Northridge for my masters. I need to stay in LA ( family reasons ). My GPA is 3.2 – not high enough for UCLA. I’d like to teach rather than dive into research. Do you know anything about these programs?
I’m familiar with both Long Beach and Northridge and I think they’d both be good options in LA. You might also check out USC and Redlands along with UCSB + SDSU if they aren’t too far from LA. Also, I wouldn’t dismiss UCLA so easily. GPA doesn’t matter as much as GRE scores. If you do well on the GRE you might still have a better shot than you think. Unless you’re doing a “professional” or applied Master’s program you will indeed be diving into research. So, you may want to either re-evaluate or find a way to earn a teaching credential along the way.
Not sure about your bias to online education – you get out what you put in. I had a great experience getting my Master’s in Geospatial Surveying Engineering from Texas A&M Corpus Christi; I even defended my thesis over the web. I did not have any options for taking a program locally, I was working in Afghanistan the entire time. Now that I am working on a PhD I wish their Geospatial Computing program had an online option because I am extremely unhappy at CUDenver. So an online program can be very good but you need to be able to communicate well and advocate for yourself.
I don’t feel like I’m biased against online education. Obviously it’s fantastic for those who have no other option and, for some others, it may be preferable for a variety of reasons. That said, I think it’s very difficult to acquire the same level of quality learning that comes from regular, in-person interaction with a faculty research mentor. Sorry to hear things aren’t going well at UCDenver. You still need to advocate for yourself and, more than any other factor, your PhD advisor can make or break the experience. You are probably already doing this but (for readers) if you’re unhappy, talk to your advisor or find a new one. Better to transfer and/or lose a year of progress rather than suffer for 4-5 years only to realize your advisor will never sign off on your dissertation.
Thank you for your postings. I have an undergrad in anthro, master’s in public health and have been working in public health, community development for 8 years. I am applying to phd programs in geography this fall, retaking GRE’s, etc. My GPA is 3.2, 3.5 graduate, I’m applying to tier 1 and 2 schools, how helpful is my work experience? And would it help to be more competitive if I took graduate courses in geography this fall or more work experience? thank you!
My personal opinion is that your work experience is extraordinarily helpful, but not every member of an admissions committee will necessarily agree. Taking grad courses this fall might help a bit, showing commitment, but I don’t think it will make or break an application. I certainly wouldn’t quit a job to do so…unless perhaps you are independently wealthy. For now, I would focus on the GRE. Like it or not, standardized test scores are the easiest way to rank candidates so it probably matters a lot more than it should at most programs. Since you have a lot of experience I think expectations would be fairly high in terms of research interest focus. You’ll want to craft a very convincing personal statement that ties together what you’ve been doing, where you want to go and how the program you’re applying to will help you get there.
Hey there! Have you heard any good things about the University of Illinois-Chicago program? The Environmental and Urban Geography masters program looked pretty good! I haven’t heard anything in specific about it though.
I don’t really know much about Illinois-Chicago but I have heard a few good things. I think it would be a great option if you want to pursue a career in Chicago-land after the Master’s degree.
Oops, the program is being shut down unfortunately. A faculty member got back to me very quickly.
As a result, I’ve been re-evaluatingmy options and would like a second opinion if you could spare the time. I am a professional archaeologist interested in expanding my education on geomorphology/soil sciences. I want to find a good physical geography program that will also provide an adequate GIS education/offer a certificate program. After reviewing the guide, programs that stood out to me were Alabama, Delaware, and Northern Illinois. I would love your input on these or other schools specializing in soil sciences. Take care!
There are many, many strong physical geography programs that also provide solid GIS training. I don’t know enough about the three programs mentioned to provide terribly helpful input. Delaware is the best known of the three but the program is known, at least to me, as one of the very top Climatology programs. They may have one of the top geomorphology programs as well. Soil science may lead you outside of geography where I won’t be able to help. Depending on your career objectives you might want to look closely at the job market near the University in addition to the quality and reputation of the program offering.
Your site has been very helpful to me. I’m a Canadian with a BA in Anthropology and am looking to expand my Geography MA program search into the United States. My GPA sits at about a 3.0. I do have pretty solid personal/family reasons for this which can be blamed for the poor GPA in my last two years. I have internship experience in Ghana and Bolivia and I’m currently taking a GIS Certificate course. Would you have any suggestions on what schools would be the best for me to apply to considering these factors and also how I can possibly improve my chances of acceptance with such a low GPA? I’m interested primarily in Political ecology and Political Geography in relation to “green” grabs, fortress conservation and wildlife crime. I’m currently looking at UC Boulder and the University of Washington, but would like to spread my search wider. Any advice you may have will be very much appreciated!
I was in a similar situation with a relatively low GPA. A good GRE score can dramatically improve your odds of admission. I would focus on getting the best GRE score possible – it carries more weight than your GPA. As far as widening your search I would take a two-pronged approach: (1) search for Professors who are doing research that interests you and (2) give some consideration to the program location as it would benefit you to be near a city/area where you can find internships and jobs after you finish the Masters. Even if you’re planning to go for a PhD I would give (2) some consideration. Boulder (+ Denver metro) and Seattle are both great places for grad school and job searching. But you should imagine living in those places beyond grad school as that’s often what happens. So, if you’d like to live in Washington DC long term you might check out Maryland, George Mason, etc even if they don’t offer the greatest Political Ecology program. If you plan to live in Vancouver after grad school I think I’d opt for UBC or Simon Fraser rather than U. Wash or CU-Boulder. Hope this helps.
Your site is super helpful. I’m hoping for some wisdom regarding my interests, and if you know of any programs that make sense. I’m still in a contemplation stage and don’t have a whole lot of information— any advice or ideas are helpful.
In an idea world I’d love to combine Geography and GIS with law, specifically immigration. MA or PHD in Geography would both be enticing.
1) Do you think this makes sense as a combination, or is it too far of a stretch to try and bring these studies together?
2) Do you know of any universities where this combination could be possible? Preferably in California?
Thank you for any guidance you can offer
Alec Murphy is the best source for Geography+Law on the planet: https://geography.uoregon.edu/profile/abmurphy/
I am looking into Graduate Geography programs in the United States for Human geography. I’m interested in the militarization of conservation areas, wildlife crime, dispossession and biosecurity issues. The majority of schools on your list do not really have professors studying these topics. Most of them seem to be studying physical geography and GIS. I was wondering if there are any other programs that you would recommend for these interests; other than CU Boulder, Washington and UCLA. As they are the only Universities that I see that have faculty covering these topics.
Thank you for your assistance!
If you’ve found faculty covering your interests at CU, UW and UCLA I think that’s pretty good. It sort of depends on what degree you’re pursuing. If PhD, I’m not sure I would cast a wider net. Go for the best fit and don’t compromise too much. If going for a Masters, while still very important, your fit with faculty research is a little less critical and you’ll be fine in most programs.
I’m a 2nd-year student studying Geomatics Engineering at a Canadian university. I’m thinking of going for a master’s degree after finishing the bachelor’s. There are quite a few universities here such as UBC, Calgary, Toronto, McGill and funding is guaranteed if I can find a supervisor. I’m interested in GIS/Remote Sensing but worry about job opportunities in this field. I’d love to know your idea about employability with an MSc Geography. How do American firms perceive Canadian credential? Speaking both academic quality and employability, do you think MSc from McGill, Toronto comparable to US universities? I appreciate if you could answer my questions.
I know this is a year and a half after the fact, but in case you do an update for 2019; if you were to include San Diego State and their Ph.D. program (a joint affair with UC Santa Barbara – but distinct and separate from the UC SB program) in which tier would you rank it? Thanks.
I’d probably put it in the same top tier as UCSB, possibly one below. From what I’ve observed, graduating PhDs who’ve come through the San Diego State + UCSB program have fared quite well in the job market.
Thank you for your information related to the program. I am an international student and I plan to get master degree for GIS/RS in USA. I received admission from OSU(geodesy in civil engineering, their research is related to computer vision and GIS)、buffalo(GIS)、UIUC（Professional Science Master in GIS – 18 months study）、Boston(RS&GIS) 、Minnesota(MGIS) . I am planning to find a job after graduation. Could you tell me which city/state in my university list has great job market related to GIS. Note: I am interested in programming and I want to use GIS knowledge to solve some environment problem or to enhance the function of Map based on Huge Geographic Data
You have some great options. By OSU do you mean Ohio State (or Oklahoma State or Oregon State)? Neither Buffalo nor UIUC have a strong job market in their backyard but they have outstanding programs especially well-suited to your interests. Both Boston and Minnesota have relatively strong local job markets, especially Boston, and they have solid programs. If the strength of the local job market is your top priority I would probably go with Boston. If the strength and “fit” of the program is top priority, I would probably go with Illinois. Hope this helps. Good luck!
I appreciate your program rankings and insights. When will the next rankings be released? Also interested in your opinion about graduate programs in Ohio. I know that Ohio State is top tier but wandered how the other programs rank. At this point I plan on pursuing a master’s but unsure if I will go on for a PhD. I need to narrow my scope of interest so I know that this is a very broad based question. Thanks for any insight.
I will probably wait until I see the new NRC reports next year before I issue new rankings. Re Ohio. I hear good things about Ohio U. in Athens and Kent State but I don’t really know too much about either program. Why limit your search to Ohio? If done properly, you won’t need to worry about paying out of state tuition. As a grad student you should look to join a department where you can work as a teaching assistant position or similar. This will pay tuition and a small stipend so you can afford to live in a dilapidated apartment and eat Ramen noodles while you study. 🙂